Shared from the 8/18/2020 Star Tribune eEdition

New nonprofit director aims to revitalize St. Paul parks

He leaves Park Square Theatre to head St. Paul Parks Conservancy.

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Michael-jon Pease says his new post “felt as though it had been written for me.”

In his 15 years working at Park Square Theatre in downtown St. Paul, Michael-jon Pease walked through Rice Park multiple times a day.

So when he saw a posting for an executive director job at the St. Paul Parks Conservancy, he said, his heart leapt.

“I felt as though it had been written for me,” Pease said. “I almost wanted to put in my cover letter, ‘This posting should have said, Michael-jon is the one for this job; others may apply if they wish.’ ”

After more than a decade as an all-volunteer organization, the Parks Conservancy, a nonprofit that supports St. Paul’s parks system, has hired Pease as its first executive director. He will lead the organization’s efforts to revitalize neighborhood parks and support the Parks and Recreation department as it undertakes a systemwide audit.

Pease, who has been Park Square’s executive director since 2012, said he started working for the Conservancy as a consultant in May and will step into the director role next month. The job was posted with a salary range of $95,000 to $110,000, and Pease was hired in that range, according to Board President Garth Morrisette.

Though the Conservancy exists to support St. Paul’s 179 parks, it is privately funded. Since its founding in 2008, the organization has raised money for parks improvements across the city, including more than $1 million for an overhaul of Rice Park, completed in June 2019.

Going forward, the Conservancy will shift its focus to neighborhood parks, Morrisette said.

“There are so many parks that just need upgrades and amenities,” he said. “And there are equity issues in a lot of neighborhoods where they need some investment, and that’s where we hope we can help.”

The Conservancy’s five-year plan identifies more than a dozen parks, recreation centers and open spaces that need work, including Swede Hollow and Margaret Park on the East Side, Wacouta Commons and Hamm Plaza downtown and the Ford Site and Highland Reservoir in Highland Park.

That work, Pease said, will begin with figuring out what the people who live in those areas want.

“For me, it always has to start with the story of each park: Who uses it, who would use it if it offered them what they truly need, and what makes it unique?” he said. “It’s tempting on the fundraising side to start with, ‘Where’s the money?’ but we really have to start with, ‘Where’s the story and where’s the need?’ ”

Emma Nelson • 612-673-4509

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